Cave Lodge

Trip Start May 01, 2007
1
170
209
Trip End Jun 17, 2008


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Where I stayed
Cave Lodge

Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I needed to get out of cities and so I followed Chris and Ann's advice to seek out Cave Lodge in the hills near Mae Hong Son. I hadn't found it in the Lonely Planet so literally all that I knew was the lodge's phone number and that it was near Mae Hong Son, somewhere.

Luckily, after 6 hours of my knees grinding into the seat in front of me and 70 km before Mae Hong Son, a passenger on the bus halted the driver for their departure right in front of a sign that said 'Cave Lodge' with an arrow pointing down a dirt road. As the driver pulled away I halted him again, got a monk on the bus to throw my bag out the door, and started investigating how to get the 8 km to the lodge down the dirt road. Some walking into the nearby village of Soppong, an hour and one moto taxi later, I found myself as 1 of only 3 guests at the spacious, quiet and remote Cave Lodge.

That night was exactly what I needed. Peace, quiet, thousands of chirping birds in a little village off in the hills with only 2 other foreigners around. The lodge is a set of bamboo huts and cabins and one massive deck with kitchen all built on the side of the Lang River just upstream from Tham Lot (cave). After I set my bag down, washed my face and put on some clean chonies, the always hard working and friendly Thai woman running the place whipped me up a plate of noodles and I sit in bliss sipping a large Beer Chang chatting with the two other guests, excited by feeling like now I was really back in Asia and riding on rickety busses and away from the cities. I told tall tales from the trip and past trips, listened to theirs, swapped Annapurna stories and shared my amazement at how young the girl next to me on the bus looked and how cute her baby was that played with me for half the ride and how black the teeth were of the grandma Lisu woman was across the aisle who chewed beatle nut the whole way.

The next day I wandered 10 or 12 km to explore a Karen village called Ban Muangphaem beyond the ridge across the river from Cave Lodge. There I saw Karen women--people traditionally from Myanmar--weaving and villagers going about life much as they must have for the last thousand years or so. The village consisted of homes made from teak or bamboo. Incredible.

Even more incredible was walking back to the lodge not by following the roads on which I came but by following downstream the creek that left Ban Muangphaem. By doing this I was joined, off and on, by an older Thai woman portering a basket of wild vegetables she had gathered. She was followed and led by her faithful dog. We crossed the creek several times as the trail jumped from bank to bank as it sought flat portions of the narrow creek canyon. When the creek flowed into the Lang River she headed right and upstream. I headed left and downstream to the lodge. As I did I passed two men milling a log with a long hand mill saw. After I left them I encountered a herd of water buffalo resting in the sand and then was passed by a man carrying some sharp hoe looking gardening implement. When he and I crossed the Lang River for the last time, there were 2 boys wearing dive masks and fishing by dragging a net through the river. At the same time, a woman left the bank and hit the trail just ahead of me. She had a scythe looking implement and also had a dive mask. Not sure what to make of that.

In the evening I headed into Tham Lot (cave) which just amazed me. What I found most amazing was that I explored the first 2 massive caves with just a guide and her kerosene lantern. At the third cave I was also alone except for 4 caving monks. This is how going into tourist caves like Carlsbad Caverns and Jenolan Caves must've been like before all the electric lighting and stainless steel handrails. So cool.

Even cooler is that the Lang River runs right through the ridge and creates the entrance to all 3 caves. So between the second and third cave I hired a bamboo raft and I floated in silence and awe with my guide and the boat man, the only light coming from the lantern which silohoutted my guide in front of me.

To top all of this, I timed my entry into the caves so that when I exited the third cave where the Lang River exits the ridge, a 100,000 swallows started to fly into the cave for a night's rest. For an hour I laid there on the river bank watching thousands and thousands and thousands of swallows which filled the sky as far as I could see as they swooped and swirled and spiraled into the cave entrance right above me. Amazing. All this set along a peaceful river cutting right through a jungle where 4 monks had just disappeared downstream into the unknown.

Tempering all this is that smoke from slash and burn agriculture fills the air and I fought a sore throat the whole day. I'll have to return here someday in or just after the wet season to do some kayaking and rafting.
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